Bargaining as Overachieving

When something bad happens to someone, they go through the Five Stages of Grief. The stages are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance, and we all experience these stages, and not necessarily in the above order. But I want to talk about just one, and that stage is Bargaining.

I experienced trauma when I was little, and I went through the stages. I didn’t know it at the time. But I’ve been working on this body of work about childhood trauma, and I’ve been exploring it on a personal level and looking at it with my own history. It’s been really freaking hard.

I’ve been photographing objects as signifiers for a traumatic event. I was challenged by a professor to talk more about myself as a person instead of someone who was traumatized. I interpreted this as photographing objects that said something about me, so when I was visiting home for the Thanksgiving holiday, I photographed some things. Actually, I photographed a lot of things. About 100 things. Things that had everything to do with my achievements growing up. Trophies, medals, pins, cords, tassels… Basically any form of accolade imaginable, I had earned in high school or college.

As I was photographing these things, I grew sad. Which may seem weird, because these objects are celebrations of my accomplishments. But they were covered in dust. The feeling I had towards them wasn’t pride, but shame, because I finally understood why I had all of these things and why they felt so empty to me.

They were my way of bargaining. The better I did at school, the more sports I played, the harder I worked, the more I could ignore what had happened to me. By working myself so hard, I could ignore– no, I could deny– what had happened to  me. The logic was how could someone who had something so terrible happen to them be capable of all of these wonderful things?

*You can click on the image to see it larger.

Some of my classmates asked me how I did all of this. The answer is, I honestly don’t know. What I do know what that I was hurting myself.

Trauma is a complicated thing. Healing is even more complicated.

I’m still working through this project, and there will be more updates to come. I have a lot of ideas to execute over winter break, and I’m spending three weeks in Ireland for a studio intensive course. Then there’s the whole thing about having three semesters left of graduate school… So this work is going to change. I’m looking forward to what is next.

Happy Shooting!

5 thoughts on “Bargaining as Overachieving

  1. Pingback: Portrait photography

  2. Found your site through Ashley Lily Scarlett, who published your self portrait. I commented on it on her blog. I find this essay interesting. Although I haven’t shored up many awards there is the wish to ‘prove’ oneself to finally have dignity, something to show the world what one has become. Not that it is only sexual abuse survivors (or trying to survive/overcome) that needs to do this. Anyone that felt unappreciated at whatever level during growing up has this tendency. Ted Turner is a case in point.

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